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Even the most well-meaning of pet owners make mistakes. I see it all the time. They may be doing something to TRY to help their pet but actually do harm. Even if they think they are understand their dog or another animal properly it can go totally wrong.
Many of the mistakes pet owners make is due to a lack of experience in that particular situation or problem.
It is sometimes hard for veterinarians to point out these mistakes as some pet owners are very defensive and don’t take criticism well.
But… because I am the irreverent vet – I am not afraid to point out the mistakes. I’ve had clients get really angry with me. Mostly they are angry at themselves but somehow I am the target. After all – it was them that gave their dog an overdose of ibuprofen and now their dog is sick and needs care medical care. I didn’t do it. A simple phone call to the vet before they gave it could have saved them a lot of time and frustration (and money).
Before I go any further, let me introduce myself for those of you that don’t know me. I’m the Irreverent Veterinarian and I give you my honest opinion of issues in the animal care world. Some might say that I’m honest to a fault. I speak my mind and I won’t sweet-talk you or sugarcoat the truth. I tell it like it is – to you, the drug companies, the pet product manufacturers, professional breeders and pet owners. Some of what I say can be controversial but that doesn’t stop me; it can be hard to hear the truth.
So what are some common mistakes that dog owners make?
Here are some common things pet owners do and don’t do that can hurt their dogs:
- Pet owners try to self-mediate their dogs. Maybe their dog is limping or vomiting, so they give either another dog’s medications or human medication to fix the problem. Some medications are very toxic to dogs and prescriptions are only good for the patient to which they were prescribed.
- Not planning for dog care expenses. If you can’t afford vaccines and routine care, you can’t afford the dog. If you don’t have enough money to take care of your dog, don’t get one.
- Feeding table scraps. Some owners think they are doing their dog a big favor by giving them table scraps. Don’t get me wrong, dogs do like it. But some table foods are toxic and others just don’t agree with a dog’s digestive system. For example, some dogs will get gastrointestinal upset (vomiting and diarrhea) or pancreatitis from being fed table scraps.
- Misunderstand “the wag.” Just because a dog is wagging his tail doesn’t mean he is friendly. Certain types of wags are associated with focus and aggression. I’ve seen well-meaning dog lovers pet a dog with a wagging tail only to be attacked.Learn more about the wagging tail and what it means.
- Creating a fat dog. A dog’s obesity is the owner’s fault. Dogs are obese as a direct result of what they are fed, and that’s a choice made by their pet parents: you. Obese dogs either need to eat less, eat lower-calorie food, or get more exercise. You can control all three.
- Creating a Beggar. Poor training can create a beggar. By feeding your dog from the table and giving them anything you eat, you create a dog who thinks begging is OK. This is very annoying when company comes.
- Training Mistakes. Dog owners slack off on training and start too late. If you don’t want a dog to do something as an adult, then correct them as a puppy. Don’t wait until they are 2 years old to teach them and yell at them when they don’t get it right.
- Leaving the Dog Out. Don’t leave a dog out when weather is bad. Some pet owner looks outside, see the rain, and decide they’d rather not “walk” their dog in the morning. Instead they will just let the dog outside to do their business. Emergency clinics see a lot of dogs hit by cars after being left out during bad weather.
- Leaving The Dog in the Car. Never, ever leave your dog in the car. This is the best policy even when it doesn’t seem that hot outside. It takes just minutes for the ambient car temperatures to reach over 120 degrees and even overcast days can be dangerous. Hot, stuffy cars can result in potentially life-ending heat stroke.
- Not Microchip. Not having a microchip is a huge mistake. A microchip can a be very effective way to be reunited with your lost dog. Tags and collars can be lost but a chip will still be there no matter what. Humane societies and dog pounds routinely scan dogs for chips to see if they have owners before the animals are given up for adoption or euthanized.
- No Tag. On that note, owners sometimes think that they dog doesn’t need a tag because they have a chip when in fact, dogs should really have both a chip and a collar with a tag. This can be the **quickest** way to be reunited with your dog. Another pet lover can find your dog and quickly call you, saving you hours and sometimes days of frustration from trying to find your dog. If you lose your dog, you need to fax and call every humane society within at least 50 miles of where you live.
- Not Understanding Pros and Cons. Owners need to know the pros (and cons) of spaying and neutering. New evidence suggests that there are risks to neutering and spaying but overall most veterinarians believe that the benefits far outweigh the risks. This includes the fact that spayed dogs have a lower incidence of mammary cancer and prostatic disease and eliminates the risk of a deadly infection of the uterus called pyometra.
- Not Adequate Socialization. Dogs need to socialize, socialize, socialize! The more animals and people that dogs are exposed to early in life, the better. It is ideal to expose your new puppy to people who are tall, short, big, little, male, female, different ethnic backgrounds, and even with different clothes including hats and scarves. The larger the variety of positive interactions, the easier it is to lessen fears and have a well-adjusted happy dog.
- Inadequate Grooming. You need to groom your dog. Bathe them periodically; it really helps eliminate dead hair and simulates circulation to the skin. It also really helps to have your dog used to baths so if you really need to give your dog one it isn’t a bunch of drama. Brush them weekly and keep an eye out for scrapes, cuts, or sores.
- Nail Neglect. Most owners totally neglect their dogs’ nails. Some of the nail need trimmed periodically to avoid discomfort and injury. Massage and play with your dog’s feet. It is very annoying to have an adult dog trying to bite when you are simply trying to trim his nails.
- Not Brushing. Don’t forget to brush your dog’s teeth. Having a dog that tolerates (and even enjoys) tooth brushing can make a big difference in your dog’s dental health. Daily brushing can prevent expensive dental procedures down the road and it also improves their breath and general health.
- Give Bones. Dogs don’t need bones. It is very common for owners to give dogs leftover bones that get stuck in the jaw or mouth or cut delicate oral tissues. Your dog may like bones but it doesn’t mean they are necessary or even good for him.
- Not Asking. Please…if you aren’t sure if something is dangerous or unhealthy for your dog, ask your vet or veterinary staff. So many problems could be prevented.
- Check the Behavior. Don’t ignore little changes in your dog’s behavior. Because dogs are good at hiding their illness just by the nature of survival, you really have to watch out for signs of problems. Common ones include vomiting, diarrhea, a lack of playing or eating, a change in drinking or urinating frequency, and general lethargy. Some signs are subtle such as when your dog eats slowly or doesn’t finish his meals.
- Waiting. Don’t wait 3 or 4 days to see if your dog is better before calling the vet. As a veterinarian it is very frustrating to hear that the symptoms started several days before presentation. By the time they finally see me, the pet is **very very** sick and I’m limited in what I can do.
- Understand the Scoot. Scooting = problem. Some pet owners think it’s cute when a dog scoots their bottom across the floor but it’s considered a medical symptom. Typically either the dog has feces caught in the fur, she has worms, or her anal glands are full. Seriously, go to the vet
- Check the Bedding. You need to look at your dog’s bedding regularly. A dog’s bed can say a lot about his health. Does it smell? Do you see dirt? Do you see fleas or something that looks like fresh ground pepper (flea feces)? Wash your dog’s bedding at least monthly and replace it when it becomes soiled or damaged.
- Reward. Don’t take your dog for granted. Reward your dog with a treat or pet for really good behavior. That could be when he goes to the bathroom on demand or greets a stranger in a friendly happy way.
- Not Planning to Pay. Don’t show up at the vet without a plan for paying the bill. Having a pet can be expensive so if you have limited resources, plan on what you would do if you have an unexpected big expense. For example, keep a credit card with available credit, get pet insurance, or start a pet savings account.
- Learn. Learn about pet insurance. It can really help you do the best for your pet if there is an emergency or health problem. Some policies such as those from PetPartners will cover up to 80% of your bill.
- Not Enough Play. Play is a necessary part of your dog’s life, so don’t let her just sleep and sleep and sleep some more. Play makes dogs happy and is great exercise but it also helps control weight and support good mental health.
- Allow to Roam. There’s no reason for your dog to be allowed to roam free. Dogs that are on a leash when they go out live longer. Those that are allowed to wander often eat toxins, trash, get in to fights, or are hit by cars.
- Know the Bad Dog Toxins. Learn what household items are bad for your dog and keep them picked up, including common toxins such as antifreeze and rat poison.
- Human Medications. Keep human medications out of reach. Treat it just like you would kids: keep medications and inhalers out of the reach of your dog. These items can be highly toxic and even fatal.
- Vacation Time Trouble. When you go on vacation, get a pet sitter. Most pets are less stressed and happier if you get a house sitter rather than boarding them. Boarding can be necessary at times but it is very stressful.
- Urinations. Don’t assume that inappropriate urination is a behavioral problem. There are a lot of medical issues that can cause “accidents.” Make sure your pet doesn’t have an emergency such as an infection or bladder stones.
- Water. If your dog will be outside you can’t slack off on their care. Make sure she will have a BIG bowl of clean fresh water that can’t spill and plenty of shade.
- No Grapes. Don’t give your dog grapes and raisin. These items cause kidney failure even in small amounts. If your dog ingests them, call your vet. Waiting for symptoms to appear can be too late.
- Clean Up. Don’t leave underwear, tampons, or socks lying around. Some dogs like to eat things they shouldn’t and thousands of pets undergo surgery to remove items they can’t digest.
- Dogs Don’t Learn. Realize that dogs don’t learn from their mistakes. Just because a dog had surgery to remove underwear doesn’t mean he won’t do it again. If given the opportunity, most dogs **will** make the same mistake twice.
- Understand the Nose. Touching a dog’s nose doesn’t mean anything about his body temperature. The idea of a cold or wet nose indicating illness is an old wives’ tale. If you think your dog is sick, see the vet.
- Kid Problems. Be careful around kids. Even dogs with good temperaments can tire of being laid on, yelled at, and having their tail pulled. Never allow your dog to be alone with a child if you aren’t 100% sure of both the child’s and the dog’s behavior.
- Consistency. Dogs need consistency. You can’t have one person discipline or training a dog to do one thing when everyone else in the family doesn’t do the same thing. This creates confusion and inconsistency. Everyone needs to be on the same page; if you can’t make this happen, don’t get a dog.
- Don’t Feed Raw. Don’t give them a raw food diet. There are more dangers here than benefits. In addition, don’t give your dog a homemade diet without checking with your vet. Most recipes out there are not balanced and can cause malnutrition.
- Not Checking Food Labels. Pay attention to food labels. Check them to ensure the food has been approved by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). Check out this article on food labels to learn how to read them.
- Not Training the Basics. Many pet parents don’t take time to train their dogs but they absolutely should. Training your dog can save his or her life in addition to giving you a well-behaved dog.
- Preparation. Don’t avoid preparing for an emergency just because you don’t want to think about it. Keep leashes by the front and back door in case you need to get out quickly. Use fire safety decals on all windows and doors to make sure firemen know there are pets inside and how many of what kind.
- Yearly Exams. Take your dog for her yearly exams. Dogs and cats age quickly -sometimes 7 to 10 times faster than humans – and yearly exams can help detect problems that can be treated early and even cured.
- Dog Park Dangers. Be careful at dog parks. Not every dog is friendly like yours. Make sure your dog is up-to-date on vaccinations, especially against problems such as kennel cough and rabies.
- Toy Choices. Pick toys that are sturdy, safe, and appealing; don’t pick ones that can be chewed and swallowed no matter how cute they are.
- Understand Punishment. Don’t think that the only effective training is based on punishment. Dogs can learn an awful lot from positive experience and consistent training.
- The Growl. Don’t say “good boy” in response to a growl. This is not a “good boy” behavior! Read my article The Irreverent Vet Speaks Out on Owners that Say ‘Good Boy’ to a Growl to learn why.
- Too Old. Don’t assume that your dog is too old to learn a new behavior or trick. Even senior pets are capable of something new.
- Get a Friend. Speaking of assumptions, don’t assume that your pet wants a friend. Not every animal wants a playmate; some truly are happier alone.
- Check the Yard. Check the yard and don’t take it for granted that it doesn’t contain something sharp or dangerous. Every day emergency clinics see dogs with punctures and laceration and the owners have no idea how it happened except that it happened in the yard. Nails on fences, stray wires, and broken glass are common causes. Walk your yard and fence line regularly looking for problems or dangerous items.
- Feeding Dry. Dry-only feeding isn’t necessary or even best. Feeding a little canned food is recommended by many veterinarians because it has a high water content which is good for overall health (especially the urinary tract).
- Using a Crate. Crate training isn’t cruel; it’s good and often necessary. Read why here in this article.
My Final Thoughts on Mistakes Dog Owners Make
Many common emergencies and problems that dogs experience are actually caused by humans. The owners either aren’t paying attention or just don’t know that their actions are dangerous (such as giving a toxic medication with good intentions). If you have question about something, please ask your vet before doing it.